The federal trial for seven people charged in the armed takeover of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge started in Portland Tuesday.
Prosecutors said they will prove that brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy and their co-defendants threatened federal workers with guns to carry out an illegal occupation.
But the Bundys, along with their supporters and relatives, claim they were holding a peaceful protest to stop an over-reaching government.
In his opening statement, U.S. Attorney Geoff Barrow said the group turned a peaceful protest into an armed occupation of the refuge, forcing employees out of their offices with guns, tearing down a fence and changing signs.
"Everyone in this great nation has a right to his or her beliefs. We are not prosecuting the defendants because we don't like what they think or said," Barrow told jurors. "We are prosecuting them because of what they did."
Angela Bundy still supports her husband Ryan, though, and said that he still feels what they did during the standoff was right.
“He still believes in what they were doing. They were trying to do good,” she said. “He still has a lot of hope that people will see that.”
Ryan Bundy is representing himself in court and said Tuesday that he is a man of faith, a father of eight and a rancher fighting government overreach.
“I believe we were there not to break the law, but to uphold the law,” he said in court.
Ryan Bundy was in a car with LaVoy Finicum when Finicum tried to dodge a police roadblock, leading to a confrontation with officers where Finicum was shot and killed.
Angela Bundy said her husband is confident in his defense but does have regrets.
“It’s really hard. It’s really, really difficult,” she said. “But my husband didn’t intend for any of this to happen, for anyone to get killed, anyone to get hurt.”
Marcus Mumford, the defense attorney for Ammon Bundy, said in his opening statement that the occupation had nothing to do with impeding federal employees.
Ammon Bundy "did what he did to demand accountability from the federal government," Mumford said. "He demanded the federal government obey the law - the nerve."
Outside the courthouse, supporters of the occupiers gathered in prayer and protest, saying they feel the suspects were within their rights and federal officials are really the ones at fault.
“We want to show support to the political prisoners and let them know we stand behind them,” supporter Kelli Stewart said. “They were exercising their rights, and we’re here to say we want our rights back.”
“I support it because I see the injustice and I see we need to bring awareness to it,” Montana farmer and Bundy supporter John Lamb added.
Before giving his opening statement, Ryan Bundy asked the judge if he could hand out pocket-sized copies of the constitution to jurors, but she said no.
The U.S. Attorneys said the first witness they plan to call Wednesday will be the Harney County Sheriff David Ward.
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